Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Signature A Tad Past Its Prime

1895.  2011 Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc (Okanagan Valley)

Barbara Phillip, Western Canada's first Master of Wine and the country's first female MW, may sing the praises of Pinot Blanc as a potential grape variety for the Okanagan Valley to champion and take to a world level. I, on the whole however, generally liken Pinot Blanc to Pinot Bland - definitely more so than seeing it as being the varietal wine that's going to put BC on the world wine map.

That being said, Blue Mountain has been producing its Pinot Blanc for many a vintage and its version is bound to be one of the Pinot Blancs that has Barb singing the variety's praises. Unfortunately, I think we might have held onto this bottle a little too long though. I obviously thought it was tasty enough to buy a bottle while visiting the winery but both Boo and I found tonight's glasses to be a bit past their prime. There was no real fruit to speak of on either the nose or the palate and, for me, that seems to be a necessity if Pinot Blanc were ever to be a signature BC varietal wine.

Sigh.

Didn't stop us from finishing the bottle though. Funny that.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Birthday Treats at the Pear Tree


I was a happy Birthday Bob when Boo announced that we were heading off to the Pear Tree for dinner to celebrate yet another year having gone by. We shouldn't need an excuse to visit Scott and Stephanie Jaeger and what's likely our favourite restaurant in Vancouver but our waistlines couldn't handle eating this well all the time (even if I'd make some sacrifices wallet-wise to do so).

From scallops with English pea and bacon risotto through a surprise foie gras and brioche course to perfect beef and a birthday crème brûlee, every bite was masterful.

For a smaller restaurant, the Pear Tree has a fairly extensive wine list but, given the occasion, Boo and I brought along a treat from our own cellar.

1894.  2003 Penfolds RWT Shiraz - Bottle No. 38520 (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Seen by many as a baby brother to Penfold's flagship Grange, I'm just going to quote the winery's website to describe their take on this beauty: "Penfolds RWT Shiraz presents an admirable alternative to the multi-regional sourcing and American oak maturation that are hallmarks of Grange, expressing instead, single-region Barossa Valley Shiraz matured only in French oak. The initials RWT stand for 'Red Winemaking Trial,' the name given to the project internally when developmental work began in  1995. Naturally, now no longer a 'Trial,' RWT Shiraz was launched in May 2000 with the 1997 vintage. Its style is opulent and fleshy, contrasting with Grange, which is more muscular and assertive. RWT is made from fruit primarily selected for its aromatic qualities and fine texture rather than sheer intensity or power of flavour. The result is a wine that helps to redefine Barossa Shiraz at the highest quality level."

The wine was as rich as we'd expected it to be and it was restaurant co-owner and front of house wiz, Stephanie, who reminded us what an apt choice the bottle was since we'd celebrated my 50th at the restaurant as well and, on that occasion, Tyrant had brought along a bottle of Grange. To this day, that bottle of Grange remains one of my most memorable sips. That birthday was little bit before I started this Wine Odyssey, however, so the bottle never made it to The List. I'm thinking that, with little over 100 bottles to go before I hit my goal, this is the closest I'll get to knocking back a bottle of Grange before I hit the "finish line."

I might be able to accept that realization but I also see that the current vintage of RWT is up to $140 a bottle at the BC government stores. Maybe I should be dropping some hints as to future birthday presents because I'm certainly game to keep eating and drinking like this on all my birthdays (and any other days for that matter).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Melmo Does (Book of) Mormon


Our evening on the town may have been late by many a month but our big night out to celebrate my youngest niece, Melmo's, 16th birthday finally arrived. Melmo's passion in school is theatre. So, I figured tickets to the touring company's production of The Book of Mormon would be right up her alley.

And, boy, was it!

Of course, it didn't hurt that I've been dying to see the show for years as well.

Melmo's present included dinner out as well and she chose (wisely, I might add) to partake in some designer, Neapolitan pizza at one of our favourite hangouts - Via Tevere. To augment our festivities, I brought along a celebratory Chianti - not that Melmo partook in that. She was, however, particularly pleased that the waitress asked if she'd be joining us in a glass of wine. What 16 year old doesn't like to think that she or he might be able to pass for the legal drinking age.

1893.  2001 Castello di Monsanto - Il Poggio (Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG - Tuscany - Italy)

I can't say that I knew much about Castello di Monsanto but this bottle somehow made it into our cellar - and I gathered it was on the higher end of Chianti. Little did I know that the winery "is widely considered one of the top dozen Chianti Classico estates of today" according to a number of sites online. Rather than recite information that others have researched far more extensively than I have, I'll just set up a link to an article where noted reviewer of Italian wines, Antonio Galloni, recounts some of the winery's history.

Il Poggio is Castello di Monsanto's flagship wine and, as a classic Chianti, it is predominantly made from the Sangiovese grape. The Sangiovese, however, is blended - to a small extent - with two other local grapes that are permitted to be added to Chianti wines: Canaiolo and Colorino. I've never been the biggest fan of Chianti - maybe because the lower end bottlings that tend to proliferate in our market don't tend to turn my crank - but this was definitely a bigger, earthier and more intense version than I'm used to. With my predilection for robust fruit, I still don't think this would be my go to wine for higher end Italian fare but it was a nice addition to our special evening.

There was no question or hesitation about our enjoyment of The Book of Mormon though. Melmo, Boo and I all laughed uproariously and thoroughly loved the musical. Of course, I shouldn't have expected anything less considering the sacrilegious content came from the warped minds behind South Park. Funnily enough, we ran into Baby Mama and Nature Boy at the theatre and they were equally enthralled with the show. I wish the show hadn't taken so long to finally arrive in Vancouver but I can't wait for it to come back again.

In retrospect, I suppose it would have been better for me to know what that "Hasa Diga Eebowai" t-shirt I bought for Melmo meant before I added it to her birthday present. At least I could say though, after learning of its F-bomb connotations during the show, that it was a joyful tune.

Chianti Classico, gourmet pizza and Broadway. Pretty darned decent, if I do say so myself.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On the Road 13 Again

1892.  2007 Road 13 Pinot Noir (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I'm going to admit that I was pleasantly surprised that this Road 13 tasted as fresh as it did for a 2007 bottle - particularly since it had such a heady bouquet of bright and ripe fruit. The balance of flavours of the palate was equally enjoyable. All in all, we were happy boys finishing off this beauty.

Thinking back, I probably shouldn't have been as surprised as I was. In its younger days, Road 13 used to be known as Golden Mile winery (before they graciously gave up the name so that the region could use "Golden Mile" as the regional trade name and, ultimately, BC's first sub-appellation). I remember being introduced to Golden Mile (and the "questionable" purple and gold-ish yellow labels featuring the castle) and its Pinot. It had a price point to knock your socks off (I think it was $13) and it was about as close to a "house" wine that I had when you could find it.

A change in branding, ownership, price increases and the proliferation of new wineries and products from the Okanagan has meant that I haven't tried nearly as many of their Pinot Noirs in recent years. If all of the vintages have been as tasty as this, I've been missing out and need to start picking up some more to throw in the cellar.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bunny Shades and Bubbles

Time for another family Easter dinner at my sister, Vixen's. She said that this year's was to be lower key and not as stress filled. That could only be less stress on the cooking and hosting side because there's no avoiding the inevitable stress that permeates Easter dinner with our family. After all, Easter dinner means making the cherished paper plate Easter bonnet. Never meant to be a competition, but you just know that the trash talk will be flying and that there's going to be judgment and ridicule to spare if your bonnet is anything less than spectacular.


To encourage greater ingenuity and cachet with our bonnets, everyone is allowed to bring along one embellishment - a little something to give you some added "Je ne sais quoi." I figured I'd snagged a real winner this year when I found a pair a bunny sunglasses. And, then, I had to let out a big, old "You Bitch!" when Vixen pulled out virtually the same glasses. So much for my unique extravagance and spectacular one-upmanship.

Good thing there was some wine to soothe my rattled nerves.

1889.  N.V. Stoneboat Faux Pas Rosé Brut (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I thought that I'd bring along a bottle of bubbly to help with the celebrations. Plus, Stargirl, my oldest niece, is starting to take a liking to wine and I thought a Rosé Brut would be a good fit for her, especially since this bottle is fashioned to be a bit of a BC Prosecco. The Faux Pas Brut Rosé is a fairly new companion bubble to Stoneboat's popular Piano Brut. Made in the Charmat Méthode, the winery website states that this classic method "is an ideal process for natural carbonation while preserving more youthful freshness and aromatics of the finished wine."

If the Faux Pas proves to be as popular as Piano, I'm sure the winery will be hoping to produce more than the 250 cases they managed with this vintage. This bottle went quickly enough with our gang.

1890.  2012 River Stone Pinot Gris (Okanagan Valley VQA)

River Stone is a small family owned winery that I ran across (literally) during last year's Half Corked Half in the Oliver-Osoyoos region. I think it's the northern-most winery on the Black Sage Bench, a little south of McIntyre Bluff and just north of Oliver. They were one of the wineries that had a "water" (read "wine") station along the route.

The Pinot Gris is one of two whites produced by River Stone (the other being a Gewürztraminer). The winery name alludes to the primary nature of the vineyard's soil and it certainly seems to lead to a more prominent minerality to the wine than is often found with BC Pinot Gris.

Thankfully, all the wine helps the imagination flow for our Easter Bonnet designs. Everyone is then expected to parade their bonnet at the start of dinner and, as Vixen delivered the evening's carrots in her finished bonnet, she was as proud as a peacock. Although I don't exactly see a paper plate incorporated into that bonnet. Looks like a disqualifying factor to me.

1891.  2009 Bodega Castillo de Maluenda - Punto Y Coma Garnacha Viñas Viejas (D.O. Calatayud - Spain)

Our last wine of the night was a big, fruit laden Grenache. It was probably a bit much for our dinner of ham but, as is often the case with Spanish Garnacha - full bodied or not - the wine can be sipped along all on its own.

Punto y Coma is one of the brands that produced by the Bodegas y Viñedos del Jalón, a large collaboration of three wineries that joined, in 1999, together to further "develop the grape growing, wine production and commercialization" of wines for 34 of the 67 municipalities forming the Calatayud region. It would seem to be working for them seeing as how their wines have made it all the way to our little Canadian Easter Bonnet Parade.

And, the way I see it, the more wine that makes it the better because not only do all the bonnets look better after wine but you can always drink more if you need to assuage your wounded pride if your bonnet isn't as well-received as it so rightly deserves to be.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Wrath of Bill

Since Boo and I were grilling up a big-ass steak tonight for dinner, I thought why not splurge and go all out with a big-ass bottle that I've been dying to pull the cork on. This baby's "big-assed" not only in its profile but in its story as well and it's likely one of those "once-in-a-lifetime" wines.

My last entry's Cab was from an iconoclast from south of the 49th Parallel. Tonight's wine is a Cab as well but it hails from one of the most colourful characters that the Okanagan Valley has to serve up: Bill Eggert. (As a bit of a side note, Bill even produces a wine that he calls Iconoclast.)

Bill - and his winery Fairview Cellars - was one of the eight wineries that I featured in posts leading up to the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference that was about to be held in Penticton. In that post, I mentioned that I would dearly loved to have opened a bottle of The Wrath Cab Sauv" but that it still had some ageing to do. Well, I've held off this long but I bumped into Bill at a recent BC wine tasting and he said that The Wrath was drinking beautifully right now.

I'm happy to report that his assessment was bang on.

More than a few local wine personalities have publicly stated that they don't feel the thick-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon grape can fully ripen on a consistent basis in the cool climate Okanagan. Bill begs to differ. He figures he grows as much Cab Sauv, if not more, as anyone in the valley and he finds that his Cab Sauv ripens more consistently than his Cab Franc - the grape variety touted as BC's answer to Cab Sauv simply because it's generally seen as an earlier ripener. A few years back, Bill told our BC Wine Appreciation Society Bus Tour that he prefers to listen to the vines rather than wine writers.

1888.  2009 Fairview Cellars - The Wrath (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I mentioned that this is likely a "once-in-a-lifetime" bottle - not because it's 100-point Premiére Cru Bordeaux that you could only afford to taste on a single occasion. Rather, it's because this is a one-off release that Bill and Fairview will likely never be able to replicate as much as he might like to produce it every year in ever-growing numbers.

The name of this wine is a tip of the hat to James Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" - partially to capture the hardship that Bill endured in preparing the vineyard for his Cab vines but perhaps even more so to commemorate the particular weather conditions that prevailed just prior to harvest time. A little "wrath of God" if you will. If I remember the story correctly, Bill had been nurturing a new vineyard for five years and 2009 was to be the first year that the vines would produce wine-worthy grapes. For Bill and the Okanagan, he finds that September makes or breaks the vintage. Lo and behold, as the 2009 vintage was just hitting stride and after one of the most outstanding growing seasons the region had experienced, pockets of the Okanagan were hit with a lightning and hail storm that nearly wiped out the entire season's fruit. The vineyard that Bill had worked so hard on and where the fruit for this wine originates was one of the hardest hit.

Following an assessment of the vines after the storm, Bill was left with the conclusion that the grapes had generally been destroyed. However, rather than seeing all the fruit rot from the broken skins, the heat that came after the storm fortuitously dried out the damaged grapes and Bill was left with enough of a crop to make 250 cases of an almost Amarone-like Cab.

Rich, balanced and full flavoured, this was a wine that I could drink as my house wine every day. We squeezed the bottle for every last drop and, surprisingly (for me when it comes to Cab Sauv), the sip was every bit as tasty on its own as it was with the steak.

Due to the production difficulties and the limited release, The Wrath started out at $65 - a hefty sum for an Okanagan wine. In comparison to other wines that fall into that "one-in-a-lifetime" category, I suppose it was a bargain. I heard Bill tell that he has a few cases of the wine left for library release but that they now retail at $100 a bottle. My $65 bottle was a bargain indeed.  If only I'd picked up a whole case.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Chateau Smith

1887.  2008 Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley - Washington State)

Considering Washington state is a short hop across the 49th Parallel, I really don't know much about Washington wines. If Canadian wine duties and travel restrictions (two bottles of wine after 48 hours away) weren't so draconian, my consumption rate would likely be a whole lot more extensive. But they are and, therefore, I'm not. So, I'm limited to the bottles that we might run across occasionally on our travels - some of which I actually know and have tasted and others - like the bottle at hand - that somehow end up in our possession.

I think I know more about Charles Smith as a wild haired iconoclast than I do about him as a winemaker. However, I see that that a prime Mr. Google search claims that Charles Smith "first started K Vintners (in 1999), then the Magnificent Wine Company and now he has the eponymous Charles Smith label, which is dedicated to making wines that pack a punch now, rather than wines that need cellaring to be enjoyed." He's been named Winemaker of the Year by various magazines and Wine & Spirits magazine named K Vintners one of the Best New Wineries of the Last Ten Years and even Winery of the Year in 2008.

I only see a few of his wines up here in Vancouver but I don't think I've seen this Cab. I'm more familiar with his Kung Fu Girl Riesling - most likely because I think the name endears the wine to more than a few of our Asian-influenced restaurants.

The Cab was more to Boo's liking. I found big fruit up front on the initial pour but that the wine rather died out for me as it opened up. For me, it was nicer with dinner than sipping on its own but I don't know that I'd fight to find more of it North of the border.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Misconduct

I can't say that I know very much about Misconduct Wine. I had heard about them and I may have seen them (and maybe even tried a wine or two) at various Okanagan tastings around town but I'm pretty sure that this is the first bottle that I've ever opened of their's. And, to give credit where credit is due, I picked up this bottle during a quick-as-you-can afternoon tour of the Naramata Bench with Bella Gianna during the Red Rooster Adopt-A-Row pruning weekend. 

Bella Gianna wanted to check out the possibility of holding a murder mystery at Misconduct's tasting room/restaurant because the winery has adopted a Prohibition era theme - evident in the winery's general release, Bootleg series where labels and names - such as Massacre Rosé and the Big Take - evoke the rebellion and misconduct of the times. To be totally frank, the obvious marketing push on the theme likely played a role in my not making a bee-line to winery earlier on. I don't generally associate big themes with quality wines but stopping here was first on Bella Gianna's list. 

1886.  2011 Misconduct - Suspect Series Chenin Blanc Viognier (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Since we were there, it only made sense to try a wine or two and we were told that the Suspect Series is a more premium, smaller production line that the winery releases. I was intrigued by the blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier - not one that I can recall having seen before, especially for the Okanagan where very little Chenin Blanc is even grown. So, I picked up a bottle even though the tasting room wasn't pouring it that day. I'm glad to say that - for my palate at least - it worked. There was good acidity and body but, given the 30% Viognier found in the blend, I was a tad surprised by the subdued nose. All the same, it paired nicely with Boo's and my carbonara.

The back label contained a wealth of information for wine geeks such as myself. The label broke down the percentage of the blend (70/30), the variety clones, the location of the vineyards (Golden Mile and Naramata benches), elevations, yields and production style (whole cluster, medium press; 18.6C fementation temperature and 100% stainless steel).

Bravo.

I'm thinking I may just have to return to the scene of the crime and do some detective work on a few more of their wines.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Biercraft Blast (From the Past)

This could be an ad for how the internet and social media can enhance your life. A chance crossing of paths on LinkedIn prompted a night out with Camper and the Sand Queen - two old university pals that I haven't seen for, well, too long. The plan was to get together for a quick drink, a bite to eat and a bit of a catch-up. That drink morphed into drinks and a bottle of wine and a full meal - all while holding court at the corner of the Biercraft's well-appointed bar.

And, by "well-appointed," of course I mean that the girls thought the bartender was worthy of our attention and tips.

1885.  2012 Sandhill Merlot (Okanagan Valley VQA)

As you might guess, the sip of choice at an establishment called "Biercraft" is more likely made with hops than with grapes - and, in a multitude of variations. The wine list wasn't overflowing with opportunity; however, I saw the Sandhill and figured there wasn't much chance of going wrong with that (plus there's that whole Sandhill for the Sand Queen thing going on). Sandhill has been a long-time - and remains a current - favourite BC producer of mine. No doubt I'd find that I've added more of winemaker, Howard Soon's, Small Lot bottles to The List but the regular Sandhill label has been seen as a bang-for-your-buck, well-made and (most importantly) tasty wine pretty much from the day the winery was established in 1999.

Everyone I know in the BC wine industry enthusiastically approved of Howard's being named the 2015 Spirited Industry Professional Award winner at the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival. With 35 years in the business, the awards ceremony referred to Howard as a "trailblazer" and recited "an impressive series of firsts to his credit: the first BC winemaker to release a series of single vineyard designated wines, the first to produce a Super Tuscan blend and the first to receive Red, White and Winery of the Year at the Canadian Wine Awards." I wasn't in attendance at the luncheon but I recall tweeting that I couldn't think of a nicer guy in the BC wine business as soon as I heard about the award.

Having toasted Howard in my mind, it was back to the gab-fest at hand. Now, Merlot may not be my standard first choice for moules-frites (mussels and fries) but these little guys were aggressively flavoured and up for the task and, as mentioned, you can't really go wrong with a Sandhill wine in any event.

The three of could easily have added another bottle to The List but it was still a "school night" for all of us and we'd managed to hold onto our little corner of the bar for nearly three hours. Rather than jeopardize our mornings after, we agreed to do it all over again - hopefully sooner than later.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Another Rosé For the Records

1884.  2013 Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I've done a little resorting of our "cellar" and moved some of the Rosé wines that I'd picked up over the last year or two closer to positions of easy access. Not only do we tend to eat a lot of Rosé-friendly meals around our place but most of the BC-produced Rosés that we have are meant to be consumed fairly early in their lives. I think I picked up this Sperling Rosé when we visited the winery on the BC Wine Appreciation Society Bus Tour last Fall.

Prior to that visit, I had written a bit of piece on Sperling Vineyards since I was adding a bottle of their popular Market White to The List. So, rather than simply re-write a lot of that post, I'll just add a link and you can check it out if you'd like to read a bit more about this pioneering family in the Okanagan.

While visiting the winery, however, we did get a bit of the skinny on the winery and this Rosé. When the family decided to move more into wine production and out of farming, they introduced a whole different approach to their vineyard practice. They'd been steadily moving their 45 acres of vineyard into full organic and biodynamic production but they also changed up their commercial farming yield of around 6 tons of fruit per acre down to only 2 tons/acre. With your name going on the wine, it's not surprising that you want the best and most concentrated fruit that you can grow.

Obviously, lower yields result in less wine and those reduced totals were compromised even more with the 2013 vintage when a late hail storm in their part of the Valley ruined about 70% of their crop. Luckily they salvaged enough of the crop to produce this first venture into a 100% Pinot Noir Rosé. Of course, winemaker Ann Sperling is an old hand with all types of winemaking but, for an out of the gates Rosé, it didn't do too badly - winning a Silver Medal at the All Canadian Wine Championships.

Featuring a nice acidity with subdued red fruit, I think I can safely say that this won't be the last of Ann's Rosés that I'll venture to enjoy.